The benefits of cold exposure are a big thing for recovery at the moment. I am aware that there is some mixed research on the effectiveness of cold exposure on recovery. However I have been practising cold exposure (cold shower therapy) for the last 6 months or so and this is my experiences with cold exposure.
The Benefits of Cold Exposure
I started looking at the Wim How Method over six months ago. At the time I was suffering with one infection after another. I came across the Wim Hof Method as a way to control your immune system. The thing that stuck out for me was the progressive cold showers that he recommends and the breathing exercises. I started these immediately, but stuck to the progressive method he recommends regarding getting used to the showers.
Why do it?
Whilst working through the Wim Hof Method I continued with my research on this subject. Mainly because the process wasn’t very pleasant. If it is fun and I wasn’t going to get any benefits from it why do it right?
It appeared that there were actually a lot of health benefits to cold showers. Things like fat loss, improved circulation, reduced inflammation and relief from the symptoms of depression. More details of the benefits of cold exposure are listed in this article
There has been a lot of research on the the various effects of cold exposure. Some on humans mainly around fat loss. But a lot has been done on animals. This does not however mean that it will carry over to humans.
Why carry on?
As I’ve already said I’ve been doing this for over six months. So the question is why did I carry on with this? Well for one, there is nothing wrong with a little self experimenting. Plus having a cold shower after training wouldn’t be the stupidest thing I had tried in the name of improvement. Plus for me there were a few things that I actually saw as benefit to cold exposure. Even without scientific evidence.
These are a few of the things I have found:
Sleeping – After training I found my body temperature still ran hot. This really affected how easily I got to sleep. The cold shower helped me feel more comfortable in bed.
Stiffness – I’m not sure if this was the cold numbing everything or better blood flow. But it does help with post training muscle stiffness.
Mental focus – I admit it a cold shower is not pleasant, but being able to stay focused during discomfort is a beneficial skill. Not only in BJJ but in life also. The showers helped me train this focus. To the point now where after the first 20 seconds the cold does not really bother me.
These are just a few of the reasons I have carried on with the practise. I have not really noticed any improvement to my immune system. But then again I cant remember when I had my last infection so that is good.
How I face it
I used an adapted version of the Wim Hof Method. I used the adaptive approach over a number of weeks. However Wim suggests starting with a normal temperate shower. Then drop to cold for 30 seconds, then back up to hot for 30. Doing this for about 5 minutes.
I found this difficult in my shower, just because of how it works. So what I did was start with a normal shower and soap my body up. Then I turned it to cold to wash the suds off my body and hair. At first I was able to clean off pretty quickly as you would imagine. Over weeks however, I was able to slow this down and even spend extra time in there at the end. It was only after this point of adaptation, that I went for full cold showers from start to finish.
There are a few things to remember:
- When the cold hits you will want to shiver. This is the normal physical reaction. Take a deep breath, try to relax and control your breathing. This will stop the shivering, which is what you want to do. This is where the mental focus thing comes in.
- Move around in the shower just like you would do normally. I found if the cold water hit the same spot for too long it got painful. Moving around just like in a hot shower stops this happening.
- Don’t leave your head under the cold water for a long time. When I did it I found anything more than about 5 – 10 seconds at once and I felt a little dizzy. Probably the cold affecting the blood flow to the brain. But dizzy is not something you want to be, stood up in a wet shower! I alternated between my head, back, chest and my neck/face.
Most important warning
Just a quick warning around this. When I started the cold showers it upset Mrs Munki. Mainly because when I got in bed she had to avoid being touched by me, as I was that cold (apparently). It may be worth warning your partner if you are going to do this, so you don’t end up in a pre bed time argument.
Cold shower therapy This guy advocates going straight for cold showers. That is totally your choice, I preferred easing my way into the process.
The guy who did the Ted Talk has also produced a cold shower app called “CST – The Original Cold Shower Therapy Challenge”. It’s available on Apple and Android and its free. You may find this useful if you want to get started.
This is a little about my experiences with cold exposure. It would be great to hear about yours.